A peaceful death, an unexpected death, a tragic death – no matter how it occurs – dealing with the death of a loved one or friend remains extremely difficult. Guaranteed and unavoidable; yet it’s a subject that will also be unpleasant. It’s unpleasant because we fear the unknown. And when we fear something it makes us uncomfortable and anxious.
This past week has been rough. With the death of six people I know within days from each other. Death made its appearance like a thief in the night in the middle of June.
All six (family, friends and acquaintances) who passed were frail, weak and had sick beds. They too feared death at some point in their lives but I believe in my heart that they were at peace with the fact that their final hour was close by. Some were able to converse and say what should happen when they die. And yes we as the surviving family and friends knew it was just a matter of time; we knew that death would release them from their suffering. During this time the family made to-do lists, updated necessary documentation and started making the necessary preparations should anything happen. They waited in anticipation. But ironically; the day when death came knocking we all remained physically and mentally unprepared.
This beckons the question. How do we as the surviving family and friends deal with death and grief.
My first real experience with grief happened on 11 December 1993 when I was 17. The day my grandmother passed away after a long illness. It was the first time that someone whom I was very close to passed away. Faced with the terrible task to break the news to my cousin whom at the time was only 14. Whilst telling her, I laughed. I didn’t sob, I freakin laughed. Undoubtedly, my cousin was angry with me as she thought I was making a joke. I told her it was the truth. She punched me and said ‘how can you laugh about something so terrible.’
Was I inhumane to laugh at a time when I was suppose to cry my eyeballs out?
You see; I was terrified to break the news to my cousin. As a teenager, I was naive and didn’t really know how to deal with her reaction; let alone my own. Laughing was my coping mechanism in a time of grief. It was a tool to cover up my own true feelings.
As human beings, we all grief differently. Whether we cry, laugh, are raging with anger, focus on work to get our mind off it or want to be left alone – it’s our defence mechanism. There is really no right or wrong way to grief. It’s a reaction we have to the loss we are experiencing.
We are often left with a loss of words when we express our condolences to someone who lost a loved one. A hug and a few words of encouragement is often the norm. Although we are sincere in our actions; we avoid talking about feelings as we are afraid that it will make that person sad. Instead we opt to make small talk. It’s awkward and something we want to get over and done with as soon as possible. And once the funeral is over; life continues and people move on. In time, friends and family will stop offering support. But what we forget; those left behind are still grieving.
Kylie McCorquodale explains grief beautifully in her blog post when she lost her father to cancer.
The truth is, to grief is healthy and normal. Grief is unique to each person. It can bring out the best and worst in someone. And although there are said to be five stages of grief named; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some people might relate to all the stages, some might not. It is a process that takes time. A process that can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with. For some the grieving process takes longer than for others. Then there are some who never get over the grieving process. Grief should not be rushed and yet society expects people to get over it as soon as possible and to stop dwelling on their loss. Some might need counselling and other interventions to process the grief.
Why do we grief?
Because we loved that person deeply. They are gone from our lives and will never return. They are no longer part of our present or our future plans. Refusing to accept that we won’t be able to touch them, speak to them or share things with them.
We grief for us being left behind. We feel broken, alone and lost. During this time we see no way forward and question our life, our purpose and our faith.
Because of the memories we have. We reminisce of the good old days. Birthdays, special holidays, anniversaries and celebrations are hard to deal with. We struggle to let go our loved one’s belongings and we hold on to it for as long as possible.
Regrets – could’ve s, should’ve s, would’ve s that we never got to. We regret not spending enough time with our loved one, not being there to say good bye, and all other missed opportunities.
We grief because of guilt. Guilty of our actions towards that person. That we failed in our duties towards that person.
Because we are angry. Angry that this has happened to you and your family. Anger towards the person who passed away for not seeking medical help in time. We lash out towards those who are responsible for the death whether it was an accident or murder. That you needed more time and that you hoped for the best but it turned out differently. Anger towards the medical staff for not diagnosing the disease sooner. That there is no cure. Anger towards God for the suffering caused.
You won’t truly understand the pain of grief until death comes to visit your home. And although they say time heals, I think you don’t completely get over grief; you start understanding it, you cope with it and start living with it. For now the best we can do is to continue to pray for those who are grieving.
Grief never ends. But it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sing of weakness, nor a lack of faith…
It is the price of love.
- Author unknown